A teaspoon of sugar… A drop in the ocean or a dangerous liaison?
Author | Caryn Davies
Sugar, once the only supposed causative culprit of high blood sugar, is actually now accepted as a lesser evil than various other sweetened and even unsweetened foods. Caryn Davies, registered dietitian shares some perspective on the sugar saga.
“Diabetes management is no longer solely focused on restricting all dietary items that contain sugar, but is rather centered on an understanding and avoidance of the foods which can dramatically raise blood sugar. Surprisingly, ‘sweetness’ is not necessarily an accurate predictor.
Of course, a teaspoon of sugar will increase one’s blood sugar, but more dramatic effects are interestingly noted after the consumption of highly refined carbohydrate foods, such as a slice of white or brown bread, a cup of certain breakfast cereals or fruit juice and even one rice cake.
The ability of foods to affect our blood sugar after eating has been qualified and quantified in the context of the Glycemic Index (GI) and the Glycemic Load (GL), which give us insight into the type and amount of carbohydrates that should be consumed for optimal blood sugar control.
The best food choices for diabetics include carbohydrates that have been minimally processed, as these will result in a more gradual rise in blood sugar after eating, than the highly processed, more refined alternatives.
Unlike carbohydrates, protein and fat do not exert an immediate rise in blood sugar and the effect of eating carbohydrates in conjunction with a small amount of healthy fat or lean protein is beneficial to overall glycemic control, as is the presence of fibre.
Many foods do contain a combination of carbohydrate, protein and fat, but some contain disproportionate amounts of fat, which is especially unhealthy for diabetics, as a high fat intake has the ability to reduce the efficiency of insulin, (the hormone which controls rising blood sugar).
Thus, the key to effective diabetes management is to eat mixed and carefully balanced meals and to choose combination foods which are high in fibre and low in total and saturated fat.
Food shopping can get decidedly overwhelming as the topic of health can be interpreted and marketed in many different ways. Furthermore, food labeling is not always easy to decipher or even available.
Well renowned low GI foods include unrefined starches, such as brown rice and oat bran; high protein grains such as quinoa, most legumes (beans, chickpeas & lentils), raw nuts and fruit & vegetable varieties that are eaten with the skin on.
Whole foods, eaten as close to their natural form as possible, are the ultimate benchmark.
Second to this, is portion control, because even a low GI carbohydrate consumed in large quantities could send blood sugar sky rocketing! (Potentially more than some high GI foods consumed in very small quantities.) 15g of carbohydrate is recognized as the amount equivalent to one portion/ unit of carbohydrate, a number that becomes an essential tool for diabetics when trying to make sense of food labels.
This brings us back to sugar –the currently considered vice of the modern diet! Perspective from the Glycemic Index, yields it somewhat acceptable in moderation. However, issues arise when portion control (the Glycemic Load) is ignored. Although a teaspoon of sugar in an afternoon cup of tea, may be relatively slight in effect (5g carbohydrate), 4 cups of heavily sugared caffeine (2tsp) in a day paints another picture altogether (40g carbohydrate!) This coupled with the added sugar that is found in most cereals, convenience snack foods, sweetened dairy products and the diversity of drinks stocking the supermarket shelves, suddenly collaborate as a lifestyle risk factor for sugar addiction, insulin resistance, diabetes and obesity! (All of which can be exacerbated by an excessive sugar consumption.)
However, sugar and its tendency to creep into many areas of the modern diet, is certainly not the only culprit to blame for the globally increasing numbers of Type 2 diabetes and the associated conditions of cardiovascular risk, such as hypercholesterolemia and hypertension.
Fat, specifically saturated fat, has an equally influential role on health risk and a high fat diet has been linked to earlier onset of diabetes in susceptible individuals. Further, a diet high in fat could prevent weight loss, one of the chief management goals for diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is not only manageable through dietary adaptation, but is to a certain extent preventable too! All it takes is a little bit of consumer savvy…”
Top Tips for Food Label Reading:
- Choose unrefined, low GI carbohydrates and exert portion control!
- Cut down on fat, especially saturated fat!
- Choose foods which:
- Contain little or no added sugar
- Contain > 6g fibre per 100g
- Contain <3g fat per 100g
- Contain plant protein (non-genetically modified soya or legumes) which are associated with a beneficial effect on blood lipids.
- Contain <400mg sodium per serving (for sodium sensitive individuals or those with hypertension.)
At Fry’s, we strive to create top quality food. We are aware that there a different categories of people who require different types of food for health, which is why we have a broad range of options. If you have diabetes or a strong family history thereof, you should to be proactive about your food choices.
Fry’s Foods contain heart healthy plant based protein, are all naturally cholesterol free and a great source of dietary fibre. Furthermore, we offer select items that are lower in fat and sodium making these the perfect accessories to a diabetic friendly diet.